Belgian doctors face trial over euthanasia of autistic woman

Investigation into death under controversial law allowing people with Asperger’s syndrome to end their own lives

Tom Barnes
Tuesday 27 November 2018 17:36
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Dr Lieve Thienpont, the psychiatrist who approved Tine Nys’s request to die, is one of three doctors now facing criminal charges
Dr Lieve Thienpont, the psychiatrist who approved Tine Nys’s request to die, is one of three doctors now facing criminal charges

Three Belgian doctors are set to go on trial accused of improperly euthanising a woman with autism.

The physicians from East Flanders are subject to a probe over whether they “poisoned” Tine Nys – the first criminal case involving euthanasia in the country since the practice was legalised in 2002.

The 38-year-old had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, just two months before she died in 2010 during what appeared to be a legal killing by a doctor.

Belgium is one of two countries, along with the Netherlands, where people can elect to be euthanised for psychiatric reasons if they can prove they live with “unbearable and untreatable” suffering.

Controversially, Asperger’s is among the most common conditions for which Belgians seek euthanasia on mental health grounds, alongside depression and personality disorders.

Many experts inside the country and beyond dispute whether autism should be deemed valid grounds for someone to choose to end their own life.

Last year, after Nys’s family filed a criminal complaint, alleging numerous “irregularities” in her death, her doctors attempted to block the investigation.

“We must try to stop these people,” wrote Dr Lieve Thienpont, the psychiatrist who approved Nys’s request to die – and one of the doctors now facing charges.

“It is a seriously dysfunctional, wounded, traumatised family with very little empathy and respect for others,” the message read.

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Sophie Nys, one of Tine’s sisters, said the doctor who performed the euthanasia asked her parents to hold the needle in place while he administered the fatal injection, among other fumbling efforts.

After the drugs had been administered, the doctor asked the family to use a stethoscope to confirm their daughter’s heart had stopped.

Belgium’s Chamber of Indictment said it “presumes that there are sufficient indications in this particular case” and doctors involved had been referred to the Court of Assize in Ghent.

They will now face trial “due to poisoning”, Francis Clarysse, a Ghent prosecutor, told reporters.

In the 15 years since doctors were granted the right to legally kill patients, more than 10,000 people have been euthanised across Belgium.

Only one case has previously been referred to prosecutors; although the matter was later dropped without further action.

Additional reporting by AP

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